The ‘underserved’ aim high, via Ascend Long Island

Building business muscle: Actress, author and certified personal trainer Orlandina Balan, owner of Westbury-based The Fitter Woman, is among the entrepreneurs expected to flex at this week's Ascend Long Island "procurement conference."
By GREGORY ZELLER //

The rubber meets the roads Thursday at Hofstra University, when the innovative Ascend Long Island program holds its first-ever “procurement conference.”

Combining small Nassau County businesses and buyers from bigger regional corporations and government agencies, the conference is built to bolster Ascend Long Island’s primary mission: to provide essential business resources, primarily capital, to early stage enterprises in underserved Nassau communities.

Specifically, what Hofstra calls “The Corridor:” the villages of Hempstead and Freeport and the hamlets of Roosevelt and Uniondale, where Ascend Long Island and its community partners are building a support ecosystem to help a diverse blend of entrepreneurs better understand the “3 Ms” of small business – management, money and markets.

By teaching inexperienced business owners about the art of business financing – particularly owners who might not otherwise enjoy ready access to such information – Ascend Long Island is helping them “not only build capacity for their business, but also support economic growth in the communities where they live and operate,” noted Ascend Long Island Program Manager Terri Arnold-McKenzie.

Lawrence Levy: Diversity is the economic key.

And by paving a direct path to local-government and regional-industry contracts for those otherwise underserved business owners, Thursday’s conference – a test run of sorts for the national Ascend 2020 initiative funded by JPMorgan Chase and coordinated by the University of Washington – shines a bright light on an often-overlooked truth of modern economics, according to Lawrence Levy, Hofstra’s freshly minted vice president for professional studies and economic development.

“It’s great that JPMorgan Chase has recognized what many other businesses have, and should: that diversity is the key to our economic survival,” Levy, who is also executive dean of the university’s National Center for Suburban Studies, told Innovate LI. “And that we are weaker, as a people and economy, if we don’t help all our communities reach higher.”

Reaching higher is the common link between the procurement conference, the national Ascend effort and Ascend Long Island, officially a partnership of the NCSS, Hofstra’s Center for Entrepreneurship, the university’s Scott Skodnek Business Development Center and BOC Capital Corp., a Brooklyn-based nonprofit focused on small-business financing, with an eye on women, minority and immigrant entrepreneurs.

Liftoff: The Ascend Long Island “procurement conference” kicked off with a March 5 launch event. (Photo: Philip Hinds, Hofstra University)

The conference, scheduled to run from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursday inside Hofstra’s Mack Student Center, is slated to include procurement officers from Northwell Health, the Long Island Rail Road, LIPA, the Professional Golfers Association and other large-scale corporate entities, as well as the Town of Hempstead, the Nassau County Office of Minority Affairs and a host of other county and municipal government offices.

There to meet them will be the owners of more than a dozen Ascend Long Island businesses – caterers and landscapers and sign-makers and commercial cleaners and startup cosmetics brands, all of whom have refined their businesses pitches through the multifaced Ascend effort.

“It has been a pleasure to work with the entrepreneurs over the past seven months, which included 10 workshops, individual meetings, mentorship and peer-to-peer networking,” Arnold-McKenzie noted. “They are all very special and talented and have bright futures.”

And even after Thursday’s procurement conference is over, those businesses – and other startups and early-stage enterprises from across Long Island – will continue to receive topflight business-building assistance from Hofstra’s myriad development programs.

“Hofstra’s assistance does not end with the procurement conference,” said Stacey Sikes, the university’s executive dean of entrepreneurship and business development. “The ideaHUb has many resources, including mentorship, incubator space and MWBE certification assistance, to continue to support the growth of these 18 diverse businesses.”